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Memphis Grizzlies bow out of series with a lackluster effort in Game 5, but say they will be back

Memphis stars Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have good games, but don’t get much help and Utah rolls to a 126-110 win to eliminate the No. 8 seed from the NBA playoffs

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell runs past Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks after making a 3-pointer
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) runs past Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) after dropping in a 3-pointer over him as the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies play in Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins got it half-right.

The 36-year-old leader of the Grizzlies said the Utah Jazz were the best team in the NBA on Monday night after Game 4. He also said the Jazz’s hardest game in the series would be in Game 5 as they attempted to close out the upstarts who survived two elimination games just to get to the playoffs as a No. 8 seed.

Utah proved Jenkins right and wrong on Wednesday night, playing like the team with the best record in the NBA for arguably the first time in a month and destroying the Grizzlies from the opening tip. The Jazz took a stroll-through-the-park 126-110 victory to win the series 4-1 and advance to the second round.

“They played like the best team in the NBA,” Jenkins said in a postgame news conference via zoom in which very little about Game 5 was discussed.

Instead, the Grizzlies focused on the future after pulling off the upset in Game 1 and then losing four straight games to the Jazz.

“We will be back,” Memphis guard Dillon Brooks said.

Memphis’ confident talk after failing to finish close games back-to-back at home over the long holiday weekend proved to be just bluster.

The Jazz must have read about or heard the boasts, because they opened the game like a team possessed and never let up until the fourth quarter when the contest was well in hand.

Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks scored 27 points apiece, Jonas Valanciunas added 18 and Jaren Jackson 15. But the role players did virtually nothing until garbage time.

“Every team in the NBA has gone through unique challenges, but our team has stuck together and put ourselves into the position to play meaningful basketball at the end of the season to push through and break through and make the playoffs and go up against the best team in the NBA and do some great things and do some things that are going to motivate us moving forward,” Jenkins said.

That push took a step backward Wednesday, much to the delight of a boisterous crowd at Vivint that seemed much more energized than in games 1 and 2. The tone was more celebratory, with less nervousness than accompanied games last week.

In the playoffs, everything gets heightened a little more,” Jenkins said. “We did a decent amount, but obviously not enough to beat the best team in the NBA, the Utah Jazz, who have got that experience and learned from that.”

Morant dropped the ball out of bounds on Memphis’ first possession, and things never really got much better for the visitors.

After Game 4, a 120-113 Utah win at FedEx Forum, all the Grizzlies could talk about was how they needed to get off to a better start in Game 5 and take the Jazz crowd out of the game.

Then they did the opposite.

Utah put on a shooting display that was extraordinary, even by its standards, and jumped out to a 28-12 lead. The Jazz made six of their first eight 3-point attempts and were 10 of 13 from the field in the opening run.

The Jazz finished the quarter shooting 69% (18 of 26) from the field and 60% (9 of 15) from 3-point range.

Utah’s 47 first-quarter points were just two short of the franchise record for most points in a quarter. The Jazz scored 49 in the third quarter at Toronto on Dec. 1, 2019.

“We learned you gotta play a perfect game,” Brooks said.

Like Utah did in that first quarter.

Memphis played better the first half of the second quarter, strung together a couple of decent possessions, and got within 65-49 on a Brooks 3-pointer.

But those little spurts just got the Jazz interested again, and Donovan Mitchell ended the quarter with two spectacular 3-pointers, the first a shot in Brooks’ face, the second over Valanciunas, fading away, to beat the halftime buzzer.

Mitchell let Brooks know about it down the court, then Joe Ingles took over those announcing duties and was eventually whistled for a foul after retaliating for a Brooks pushoff.

Brooks was booed mercilessly every time he touched the ball for the second-straight game at Vivint, but turned in another outstanding performance. The former Oregon standout got his 27 on 9 of 18 shooting.

The Jazz seemed to enjoy sticking shots in Brooks’ eye — Jordan Clarkson took his turn in the second half and finished with 24. Mitchell led the Jazz with 30 — 26 came in the first half — while Rudy Gobert added 23.

The Grizzlies didn’t go to the free-throw line in the first half, a result of not wanting to challenge Gobert much inside.

Mitchell had 26 first-half points on 10 of 13 shooting.

For the Grizzlies, who shot a decent 45.8% in the first half, Brooks, Morant and Valanciunas combined for 40 of their 51 first-half points, and the bench contributed just five.

“We gotta do more if we want to compete against the best team in the NBA,” Brooks said.

Any thoughts that the Grizzlies would have another strong third quarter in them, like they had last Wednesday at Vivint, were erased when they failed to make a field goal until five minutes, 57 seconds remained in the quarter.

By then, the Jazz had a 91-58 lead and the slumped shoulders from all Grizzlies not named Brooks and Morant told the tale.

With about nine minutes remaining in the third, Utah’s Royce O’Neal beat all the Grizzlies down the court, took a pass from Mitchell and slammed home an easy bucket. Memphis coaches could only look on in disgust.

The Jazz had seemingly taken away their team’s will to compete.

“Our defense got tested,” Brooks said. “Our rotations have to be better. … When the going gets tough, we gotta find a way to make shots.”

Through three quarters, Utah shot 56.3% from the field and 40.5% from 3-point range. Memphis’ bench had scored nine points, Utah’s bench 25.

The Grizzlies slapped a little lipstick on the pig in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Jazz 34-20 to make the final result appear closer than the game actually was.

Morant’s “words going into the locker room were, ‘we will be back,’ and that’s a great mentality,” Jenkins said of the star. “That is motivating for his teammates, obviously for the entire staff, of what we have laid as a foundation. We are only getting started.”

The Jazz are already there. That’s something Jenkins has been certain of all along.